Teaching Restraint: How to say "No" when you want to say "Yes"

“Saying yes too often creates a pattern for which there is no end.”—Dr. David Walsh, author and parenting expert

As parents, we’re wired to want to overindulge our children, and saying yes to their every want is easy. But we all know parenting isn’t always easy! Our kids won’t grow up well unless they have some limits and learn to take responsibility for themselves. Here are some tips to help you make the transition from yes to no.

Tips for all parents...

• Know that parenting is not a popularity contest. Your job is to be the parent, not your child’s best friend. When you say yes too much, you make it easier for your child to like you while also dodging their responsibilties. When you start to say no more, you child will get upset, but you’ll teach your child valuable lessons.

• Remember the goal of balancing the amount of times you say yes and the times you say no. You don’t want to refuse everything your child asks for, but you also don’t want to give in every time. Find a balance. Work on making your yeses more about creative ways to assert your values and boundaries in a positive way.

• Download the free list of the 40 Developmental Assets. These 40 assets are what all kids need to succeed. Kids need both support and limits to grow up well.

• Recognize that we live in a yes culture. Our culture promotes indulging yourself, doing what’s easy, and instant gratification. To stop overindulging your kids, be aware that you’re going against the current culture (which most effective parents do anyway).

• Focus on your overall parenting goal: raising successful, competent kids. You cannot do this if you’re never setting limits and always saying yes.

• Read the helpful, practical book No: Why Kids—of All Ages—Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It by Dr. David Walsh.

For parents with children ages birth to 5

• Avoid the pattern of always buying something for your child whenever you go shopping together. Instead of rewarding your child’s behavior with a purchase, say you’ll play with your child for 15 minutes. Emphasize time together as a reward instead.

• Set clear, simple limits. Young children are more likely to follow the rules when they understand the rule, when adults are sensitive to their feelings, and when adults notice when they change their behavior to the better.

• Don’t expect kids to understand the rules right away. Keep repeating them. Be positive as you restate them. Be patient as your child learns the appropriate ways you want your child to act.

For parents with children ages 6–9

• Talk with kids about behaviors you see on television or in public. Ask them which behaviors they think are appropriate and which are not. This teaches your child values.

• Recognize that kids will act out when they’re stressed or you’re stressed. Take time to calm down and strategize about what you really want from your kids (such as helping them grow up well) rather than what you immediately want from them (such as becoming quiet). Get tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Place limits on money and talk about why you have the limits you do. For example, you may say that it’s important to save, which is why you don’t say yes to every request to buy something from family members.

For parents with children ages 10–15

• Young teenagers are quick to point out how your rules aren’t like other family’s rules. (They always find the families that have few or no rules.) Be firm. Explain that your family is different. Emphasize how you want your kids to grow up well.

• Listen to what your kids want—and why. Really listen. That doesn’t mean you say yes right away, but you may be able to help them get what they want by helping them set goals and take steps toward meeting their goals.

• Young teenagers are heavily influenced by the herd (other young teenagers). They’ll claim that “they’ll die” or “be outcast forever” if they don’t have a cell phone or some other latest gadget. Don’t be quick to give in—even when they pressure you. Set standards for what you believe is best for your child.

For parents with children ages 16–18

• By this age, teenagers will pressure you to loosen the reigns and give them more privileges. Think carefully about which rules you can loosen and which need to remain firm. Read the article by Julie Mitchell of Parenting Teens Online.

• Support your teenager, but be careful that they don’t manipulate you to take over their homework, school projects, or household chores. (They can be experts at that.) Give them help but just enough to get them to do their part.

• Consider reading Generation Me by Jean M. Twenge, a provocative book about how our kids are becoming more entitled than ever before.It may change some of the ways you parent!

• Notice when your teenagers do the right thing. Praise them. Tell them that you’re proud of them. Positive feedback also gives young people information about which behaviors are appropriate and which are not.

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